Friday, August 14, 2009

Quote for the day

"Most liberal opinion is horrified by persecution of homosexuals and supports abolishing anti-homosexual laws without really accepting homosexuality as a full and satisfying form of sexual and emotional behaviour. Such tolerance of homosexuality can co-exist with considerable suspicion of and hostility towards it, and this hostility is reinforced in all sorts of ways within our society." - Dennis Altman, Homosexual Oppression and Liberation, 1972

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Weird statistical reporting from Rasmussen Reports

For reasons unfathomable to me, the US public opinion poller Rasmussen Reports has decided to measure President Obama's popularity by a Presidential Approval Index rating arrived at by strange means. They get it by subtracting the percentage of those who strongly disapprove of his Presidency from those who strongly approve of it.

Why exclude moderate approval and disapproval? The current figure of -8% arrived at by Rasmussen Reports through their methodology seems to the casual viewer to suggest a negative overall view of President Obama. Yet the total numbers provided by Rasmussen in the article (50% overall approval and 49% overall disapproval) suggest a much more even split. I don't see much room here for interpreting this as Obama having negative overall popularity the way this Index misleadingly suggests. I think that there is room for interpreting this as Obama being more unpopular among rabid partisans than he is among the general population, though.

Curious also is the decision by Rasmussen to only survey likely voters to determine approval rating. As the survey summary notes, "President Obama's numbers are always several points higher in a poll of adults rather than likely voters". I can understand why this might be relevant in a poll of how people are likely to actually vote, but in general overall approval? Does being unlikely to vote automatically make your opinion completely worthless when it comes to politics? I can see how some people might argue that it should, but personally I think the principle of democratic accountability extends well beyond the single moment of an election. If people, even people unlikely to vote, have an opinion about government, then that opinion should be known and taken into account. It's a shame that Rasmussen doesn't do that.

It does seem awfully convenient that both these statistical oddities have the effect of making President Obama's approval rating seem much lower than the results reported in other surveys with more meritorious methodologies. If I was a conspiracy-oriented person I might start wondering if this was deliberate. Good thing I'm not a conspiracy-oriented person, then.